EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an excerpt from Dinesh D’Souza’s Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader.
On abortion, Reagan would not be flexible, because he firmly believed that millions of lives were at stake. His pollster Richard Wirthlin informed him that most Americans did not agree with him, and even Republicans were divided on the issue. Many of his aides begged him to stay away from the subject. But Reagan refused to modify his views, and throughout his presidency he publicly advocated the cause of the unborn. He took the unusual step as president of writing a book about his pro-life convictions, Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation. He even had the controversial film The Silent Scream, which seeks to demonstrate that the unborn fetus feels pain during an abortion, shown at the White House.
Although Reagan supported legislation and court rulings that would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide, he knew that the political configuration of the courts and the Congress in the 1980s was such that abortion could not be outlawed. The best that pro-life supporters could do was the Hyde Amendment, a measure that restricted public funding for abortion, which Reagan willingly signed into law. A few days before he left office, he remarked that his greatest regret was that he was unable to do more as president to protect the lives of the unborn and that America would never be “completely civilized” as long as abortion on demand was legal.
As many Americans saw, it was possible to disagree with Reagan on abortion while respecting the depth of his convictions and the eloquence of his appeal to moral reason. In his 1986 State of the Union address, Reagan called abortion “a wound in our national conscience.” He was not interested in a technical debate about when life begins. “If you don’t know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it,” he argued in one of his speeches. “Until someone can prove the unborn child is not a life, shouldn’t we give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that it is?” He meditated on the cumulative effect of more than a million abortions a year: “These children, over tenfold the number of Americans lost in all our nation’s wars, will never laugh, never sing, never experience the joy of human love; nor will they strive to heal the sick, or feed the poor, or make peace among nations. Abortion has denied them the first and most basic of human rights, and we are infinitely poorer for their loss.”